ONTARIO – The Ontario Tigers boys soccer team had its best season ever this past year, finishing third in the District 4A Elite 8 Showcase tournament. While it was the highest finish in school history, it was also a bittersweet end for those on the team.
“The game was 0-0 going into the half and we were told that it was the first time all year Stayton High School hadn’t scored before halftime. We ended up losing 1-0 in the semifinals and they went on to be the eventual state champions,” said Jaime Gonzalez, Ontario boys soccer coach.
While losing hurt for a team that aspired to take the title, Gonzalez said the team was looking forward to playing Marist Catholic for the third-place trophy before Marist Catholic forfeited the match. That meant that not only was the season over, but so was the high school careers of the eight Ontario seniors.
“How close our final game was, and then to have the next game canceled, it just felt like an unsettling way to end a career. We all feel like we have some unfinished business,” said Jose Anguiano, the starting goalkeeper for Ontario.
Six seniors have decided that their pursuit of that championship won’t end their soccer careers as they signed to play for Treasure Valley Community College next year. Those players are Anguiano, Junior Mireles, Adrian Nuñez, Javier Conchas, Erick Lopez and Alijah Huerta. Gonzalez and TVCC Coach Mark Phillips both say there is still a chance that more Ontario seniors will sign.
“We weren’t able to win state like we wanted so I told the boys to go make history somewhere else. I told them that they could stay close to home, get an education at a low cost, get good grades and build something special at TVCC,” said Gonzalez.
For Phillips, who’s in his second year as head coach, bringing in a talented local group of players with such good chemistry and familiarity with each other was a rare opportunity.
“The college season is brutal. You play 18 contests in three months, which doesn’t give you a lot of time to build chemistry,” said Phillips. “Bringing them in as a team helps with chemistry. And what’s even more important, the more comfortable you can make the players, the more likely it is for them to graduate.”
The close bond between the Ontario seniors goes back to middle school when they played club soccer for the FC Tigers, a team coached by Gonzalez and his brother Javier Gonzalez. The soccer club was inactive for many years before Javier revived to provide an opportunity for more competitive soccer in Ontario. Through the program, Javier and Jaime hoped to build a culture of winning soccer that would continue into high school.
At Ontario High School from left, Coach Jaime Gonzalez, players Junior Mireles, Adrian Nuñez, Javier Conchas, Erick Lopez, Coach Javier Gonzalez and Coach Daniel Dominguez. (Photo courtesy of Jaime Gonzalez)
This year’s senior group was the first group that Jaime started with the FC Tigers.
“Those early years with the FC Tigers taught me a lot about soccer but that wasn’t really the priority. We learned a lot of life lessons on how to respect people and to take accountability for our mistakes off and on the field,” said Huerta, who played left back on last year’s team.
Gonzalez saw TVCC as an opportunity for the group he’s coached since seventh grade to continue on with what’s most important — getting an education.
Huerta began taking dual enrollment welding classes at TVCC when he was still in high school and while he hopes to make the team, he’s also excited to continue learning about welding.
Anguiano initially didn’t plan on going to college but after four other Ontario seniors signed with TVCC in March, Anguino changed his mind. Anguiano, who plans to study in the manufacturing field next year, said his bond with his teammates motivated him to continue his education — and making soccer history in Malheur County.
News tip? Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or 616-610-3093.
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